Twenty years ago to the day was the first time I ever heard my uncle say the word "fuck." At least, it's the first time I ever remember my uncle uttering the most famous of the four-letter words.
No, it wasn't the first time I had ever heard the word uttered before. Growing up in the Mayfair section of Northeast Philadelphia and attending Catholic school before moving to the suburbs in 1992, I heard — and uttered — that word countless times in the schoolyard and on the block. And it wasn't the first time I ever heard the word used by an adult or even a family member, as my father most assuredly let a random f-bomb drop here and there, particularly while watching our beloved Philadelphia Eagles. (Something about an apple and its proximity to a tree, I guess.)
But while I don't remember the first time I uttered that word or the first time I heard that word in general, I will forever remember the first time I heard my uncle utter that term.
Hold on … let me back up a minute.
I was born on March 20, 1984, in Abington Hospital, right on the outskirts of Philadelphia. Residing in the Mayfair section of Philadelphia until the summer of 1992, I grew up a diehard Philadelphia sports fan. And as is the case with many a young boy, baseball was my first love. Tee ball was the first organized sport I played, and the Phillies were the first professional sports team I got to see in person. My dad took me to Veterans Stadium ever since I can remember, and I loved nothing more than going to that concrete slab of a ballpark and watching the Phillies play — and more often than not lose.
In the first nine seasons of my existence on this planet, the Phillies had exactly one winning season, an 86-75 campaign in 1986, when I was a whopping 2 years old. In that time, from 1984-1992, the Fightins compiled a cumulative record of — wait for it — 674-784, 110 games under .500. They sucked. Bad.
But then came 1993, a season without any reason for hope — the Phils were 70-92 the year before and finished dead last in the NL East. But quickly, the 1993 club let everyone know this was not the same old Philadelphia Phillies. They came out of the gate by taking series after series … and this improbable bunch just kept on winning. Managed by Jim Fregosi and led by a strong core that controlled the locker room (infamously known as Macho Row), the Phillies were the surprise of the baseball world.
They ran away with the NL East, going wire to wire and transforming themselves from a measly 70 wins in 1992 to a 97-65 mark, good for the third best record in all of baseball. And I remember damn near everything about that team: Lenny Dykstra, my favorite player, putting on an MVP-worthy campaign yet getting snubbed of a spot by Atlanta Braves manager Bobby Cox in the All-Star game. Darren Daulton staking his claim as the best catcher in the league. John Kruk looking like a garbage man but hitting like an all-star. The way Dan Baker announced, "MICK-EY MOR-AN-DIN-I!" Mariano Duncan's Mother's Day grand slam. Kevin Stocker's call-up and brief flirtation with .400. Dave Hollins' refusal to get out of the way of a pitch. Lenny locking down center, with the unorthodox double platoon in left and right — Pete Incaviglia and Milt Thompson in left, Jim Eisenreich and Wes Chamberlain in right. I also remember that lineup putting together great at-bats and walking a ton, something the Phillies of the 21st century have never done.
I remember Curt Schilling beginning his ace status, Tommy Greene hitting bombs, Terry Mulholland's pickoff move and the fact he batted righthanded despite pitching with his left, Danny Jackson coming over via trade and routinely flexing, Ben Rivera, David West, Larry Andersen, Bobby Thigpen.
I remember them all, every last one of them, and as a wide-eyed 9-year-old, I loved that team. Well, I loved everyone on that team except one player: closer Mitch Williams.
Now, some may accuse of me recidivism, but I swear on my life that I hated Mitch Williams from the moment I first saw him take the mound for the Phils. If you don't believe me, my father can and will absolutely attest to that.
I hated Mitch Williams because he was the type of closer who would walk the bases loaded before striking out the side — or, you know, imploding and blowing the save. In fact, in his three seasons in Philadelphia, Williams never had a WHIP less than 1.336, topping out at 1.642 in 1992 and having a still absurd 1.613 WHIP during the 1993 season. They didn't call him the Wild Thing for nothing — as his 1.564 career WHIP clearly proves.
Nothing about the way Williams pitched made you feel safe with the game in his hands. Essentially, he was the anti-Mariano Rivera. It was pulling teeth watching him flail away on the mound, falling over himself on every pitch without the slightest clue where the ball would end up. I hated watching Mitch Williams pitch, and I hated Mitch Williams period.
How much did I hate him? So much that, at the ripe old age of 9, I did something unthinkable. You see, my dad had always taught me that you never leave a game early. Ever. Because you never know what could happen and/or what you might miss. Yet there we were on a warm July night at Veterans Stadium, watching the Phis getting trounced by the visiting San Francisco Giants. Down 13-1 going into the home half o the eighth inning, Fregosi decided it was time to give Mitch some work. The moment I saw Williams trotting in from the bullpen, I told my dad we might as well leave. It was the first time in my life I asked to leave a game early and one of the very few times I have ever left a game prematurely. Why? Because I didn't want to see stinking Mitch Williams throw one lousy pitch.
And wouldn't you know it, in the bottom of the ninth, Kevin Stocker hits his first career home run — and I missed it because I couldn't even stand to watch Williams on the mound. I distinctly remember listening to the final inning in the car on the ride home and telling my dad again how much I hate Mitch Williams. "See, he made us miss Stocker's first home run!" Of course I blamed Mitch for that. I was 9.
Anyway, the Phillies finished first in the NL East, earning themselves a date with the hated, haughty Atlanta Braves, winners of the NL West (yes, Atlanta was in the West back then). This series could not have pitted two more polar opposites against one another. The Phillies were everything the Braves were not — scruffy, fat, obnoxious — while the Braves were everything Philadelphia hated — uptight, pristine, arrogant.
Then, of course, there was Bobby Cox, the asshole in the dugout who refused to add Dykstra to the All-Star team despite the fact Lenny was easily the best centerfielder in the league that year, finishing second in NL MVP voting to Barry Bonds.
So boy did it feel good when the Phils took the Braves behind the woodshed in six games to advance to the World Series, with Dykstra absolutely punishing Cox and the Braves and Schilling outclassing the vaunted Braves staff of Greg Maddux, John Smoltz, Tom Glavine and Steve Avery on his way to NLCS MVP. (Side note, fuck Mark Lemke, aka the Phillie Killer.)
It was on to the World Series from there to face the defending world champs, the Toronto Blue Jays. After splitting the first two games, the Blue Jays asserted themselves in Game 3, trouncing the Phillies 10-3. But the Phils looked to have the series all tied up, taking a 14-9 lead into the eighth inning of Game 4. The World Series would soon be down to a three-game sprint, first to two victories being crowned champions.
Only that's not what happened. Not even a little bit. Instead, after the Blue Jays tagged Larry Andersen for three runs, Williams came in for a five-out save. At least, that was the plan. Instead, Williams surrendered the lead in just two-thirds of an inning, blowing the save and allowing the Jays to not only tie it, but take the lead. The Phils were muted, and suddenly a 2-2 series had gone to a 3-1 monumental hole thanks to the atrociousness of Mitch Williams, who got tagged with that embarrassing and series-altering loss.
The Phillies would rebound and stave off elimination in Game 5 behind a masterful complete-game shutout by Schilling, which brings us back to my uncle on this date 20 years ago.
It was Game 6 of the 1993 World Series, and it also happened to be my cousin's 10th birthday party. As such, with the game on and the Phils in the World Series, it was a sleepover party. There we were, a gang of boys all huddled around the television in our sleeping bags, my uncle in his recliner, watching the Phillies try to live another day.
And it sure as shit looked like they would … but not at first.
The Jays, smelling blood, jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first and took a 5-1 lead into the seventh. That's when the Phils went into full emergency clutch mode, posting a five-spot in the inning to take a 6-5 lead. That score held going into the 9th … putting the game in the hands of Mitch Williams, the closer who had set a franchise record with 43 saves in the regular season, and the closer who had already blown a save opportunity in Game 4.
In true Mitch Williams fashion, he walked Rickey Henderson the lead off the inning, giving a free pass to the greatest base-stealer of all time and putting the tying run on base. That was the most Mitch Williams thing to do ever. Then, after getting Devon White to fly out, Williams surrendered a single to Paul Molitor — tying run in scoring position, World Series-winning run on base. Fuck me.
Then, and I swear that I remember the announcer, if not during this at-bat then earlier in the game, saying whatever you do, you don't want to throw one low and inside to Joe Carter. So of course, on the fifth pitch, Williams misses low and inside, catching way too much plate … and the rest is history.
I wanted to cry. We all wanted to cry. But not my uncle. No. The second he heard the crack of the bat, he unleashed that most infamous curse word: "FUCK!"
Fuck indeed. Fuck Joe Carter. Fuck the Blue Jays. Fuck my life.
But most of all, fuck Mitch Williams. That fall-on-his-glove, walk-every-other-batter, blow-two-saves-in-the-World Series schmuck ruined my childhood. Do the math. The Phillies lost the Series in the most painful way possible, on only the second walk-off, championship-winning home run in World Series history, and they lost it in six games thanks to two blown saves. If Williams does his job, the Phillies win the Series in six instead of lose it in six, and the narrative of Philadelphia sports changes forever.
I would have grown up knowing what it was like for my team to win the whole damn thing. Instead, I had to wait another 15 years before I could witness a Philadelphia team win it all, well after my entire childhood had passed me by.
Instead of tasting elation, it was pounded home that this is the life of a Philadelphia fan. Our teams don't win. They just don't win. And we suffer. In the end, they'll always let you down because that's just the way it is, and often, they'll do it in the most heartbreaking way possible. It took nearly 25 years for that stink to wear off, a childhood of pathetic sports memories.
So while I will always remember and revere that 1993 Philadelphia Phillies team, I will never, ever, ever get over my hatred of that sorry excuse for a closer.
Why? Because Mitch Williams ruined my childhood … and, it goes without saying, ruined my cousin's 10th birthday.
Reverend Paul Revere, aka Joe Boland, is a sports blogger out of Philadelphia whose life revolves around sports 365 and a quarter days per year. Keep up with Rev at his own personal blog, The House That Glanville Built and on Twitter.